Pro-Europe rebels are plotting to insert new “layers of rights” into the Government’s Brexit legislation and may be attempting to “torpedo Brexit”, two senior Conservatives have warned.
In an article for the Telegraph, Suella Fernandes, the chairman of the party’s Eurosceptic European Research Group, and John Penrose, a former constitution minister, criticise fellow Tory MPs for attempting to bring a controversial rights charter into British law this week despite “the newly won freedom” achieved by the Brexit vote.
Ms Fernandes, a leading Brexiteer, and Mr Penrose, who supported the Remain campaign, also accuse their colleagues of a “synthetic fuss” over an amendment enshrining an exit date in law, and warn of the risk of the Brexit legislation being used “to thwart the referendum result by stealth”.
The unusual alliance highlights the anxiety of senior Conservatives on both sides of the Brexit debate over a series of running battles being fought by pro-Europe rebels attempting to amend the Government’s EU Withdrawal Bill.
Last week the rebels hit out at claims they were attempting to “block Brexit” – insisting that they were carrying out their duties as parliamentarians by scrutinising and improving the legislation.
Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general, has tabled an amendment that would allow the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights to continue applying after Brexit.
It is among a series being debated on Tuesday relating to the retention of EU law. But a briefing being circulated among Eurosceptic Tories warns that the Charter contains “vaguely worded provisions, including a right to respect for physical and mental integrity, the right to pursue an occupation and a guarantee of a ‘high level of environmental protection’.”
During the referendum campaign, Michael Gove, a leading Brexiter, set out how an “opt-out” for Britain from the Charter had turned out to be “nothing of the kind” and was being ignored by judges in Luxembourg.
The Conservatives’ 2017 manifesto pledged not to bring it into UK law.
Mr Grieve is understood to have indicated he would withdraw the amendment if ministers considered alternative safeguards in areas such as equalities and children’s rights.
But today Ms Fernandes and Mr Penrose write that although the legislation “ought to be a boring, technical exercise in legal copying and pasting …there’s a danger it will be used as a Trojan horse, to thwart the referendum result by stealth.
“The synthetic fuss over whether the date for Brexit should be in the Withdrawal Bill is a good example.”
Triggering Article 50 left Britain with two years to negotiate with Brussels before leaving the European Union in March 2019.
Ministers have said that fixing the date in UK law will give Parliament an opportunity to vote to support or reject a deal, but rebels have argued that enshrining the date is “too rigid” because the Government may need additional time to conclude talks.
In the past Mr Grieve was among those who criticised the application of the charter by the European Court of Justice. In 2014 he said that the court had been “notably expansive” in applying rights in EU member states “and it has properly been a goal of government policy to try to limit this trend”.
Meanwhile, Cabinet ministers will take part in a series of meetings this week at which David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, will come under pressure to explain what the UK would get in return for an increased divorce bill being demanded by Brussels.
A government source with knowledge of the talks said: “The primary imperative for the British Government now is to weigh up what is offered against what it is politically possible to offer the EU in terms of a financial settlement.”
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